The brigade for pig farming from Petrellen, a small village with an even smaller kolkhoz, was awarded a Lenin medal for excellent work and received a paid trip to Moscow to visit the large agricultural exhibition. The photo is a typical memory photograph from this place, taken by a photographer from Moscow. The brigade was made up of one man and six young women. The group was “overseen” by persons such as the local party secretary, the chairperson of the kolkhoz, etc. The Soviet administration organized these kinds of trips in order to impress the populace with their socialist accomplishments. The visitors learned a lot from these trips, because none of them had ever been to Moscow before. Yet they also gathered their own private impressions about Soviet life.
This picture is a typical memory photo. A situation is captured here which was worthy of being remembered. In the summer of 1956, the Soviet administration opened the way to the Curonian Spit, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea which up to that point had been closed to the civilian population. The peninsula, which before the war had been a popular health resort, could now once again be visited – yet with strict limitations and restrictions. The photo makes clear that there was an interest in visiting it right away. Normally the local German inhabitants (Memellander) would not allow themselves to be photographed with foreign Soviet soldiers. Here in the border region, where up to that point taking photographs had been strictly forbidden, one simply included the guards in the photograph.
Memory photographs from farewell parties belonged to everyday life in Soviet Lithuania in the later 1940s into the 1950s. First, the Poles left the Wilna region, then the Jews were allowed to emigrate or Israel and the Germans to Germany. In the picture, we see four women who are saying good-bye, with all of them wearing amber necklaces. Since it was not permitted to take money along, many sought to invest their money in valuables – thus the amber necklaces. 1958 was the year of the Berlin Ultimatum, a high point of the Cold War. Those participating in the farewell party were sure that they were saying good-bye for the rest of their lives. The emigration wave was stopped by the Soviet administration in the end of 1960.
Here you see another partial family. Here, the father was a soldier in the German Army and was taken as an American prisoner of war and for political reasons did not return. The son lived with four women: his mother, the unmarried aunt, and both grandmothers. (Almost every family had an unmarried aunt living with it. The deaths of the men in the First World War meant that for this generation of women, there was a disproportionate surplus of them.)
In contrast to the women in the previous picture, the women here are wearing their hair short and to a certain extent very fashionable clothes, even though they were living in the countryside. The woman first at right, the mother of the boy was tailor and she sewed fashionable clothing for the whole family.
A typical family from the early post war time is seen here. The photo demonstrates how incomplete these families were back then. In the front row are the mother, grandmother, and the unmarried aunt. Standing in the back row are the children. The father of this family was a soldier and had died in the war. In other families, the fathers were in political detention, prisoners of war, or had emigrated for political reasons. It is an East Prussian family in the Memel region, a strip of land which was only peripherally affected by the battles in the political underground. (For many Lithuanian families in other Lithuanian regions, the young men lived with their weapons in the forests, and the families on the farms were made up of old men, women, and children). You will also notice that the women in the first row for the most part are dressed traditionally and likewise their hairstyles. Typical for the older generation is the headscarf; mother and aunt have their hair in the traditional braids, so there were no short hair cuts.
By Ruth Leiserowitz
The Postwar Period in Eastern Europe
The starting point of this new project is the observation that it is especially the first postwar decades in the eastern countries of Europe, with the war’s long-term and numerous consequences, which is an area that has been under researched and that particular developments in that history have up to now been portrayed from strictly ethnic perspectives. There were two clefts which preceded the new beginning that came with the postwar period. The first, mostly in juristic form, took place before or during the war. What happened was that for a large part of the citizenry along with their families, the occupation revoked their citizenship, their right of residence, their right to continue living in the old ways. The second (geographical) break was something experienced by the migrants when they had to leave behind their home territory (most of the time being compelled to do so.) Although it is commonly maintained that given all the reconstruction efforts, there was little space left for an intensive examination of the memories of the terror and the sacrifice of the war, here the thesis will be put forward that these topics were consciously allowed to fade from view in order to create a future; otherwise no surge forward into a new life would have been possible.
Here we start the new interdisciplinary network based at GHI in Warsaw with partners in Central European countries. During the next two years we will meet each other at four workshops to discuss the results of our research. This scientific blog should accompany our research. We want to facilitate discussions, share some research data during discovery stages, share ideas and encourage scientists to collaborate. To study various aspects of the post-war history, we may use personal photos from archives from our own research as a source. Hereby we try to connect Eastern European history and visual history. The first idea is to publish meaningful pictures with a historical commentary.